Sunday, June 10, 2018

Who stole from Shujaa Pride?

One of the funniest things I read today was about how mad the President's Chief of Staff and the headboy of the Kenya Rugby Union were because the members of Kenya's Sevens' team covered over the sponsor's name on their team jerseys when they absolutely flattened Fiji in France last night. Apparently, team Kenya covered the words "Make it Kenya", for which they were paid by Brand Kenya to wear, because their allowances from the sponsorship monies hadn't been paid by KRU. What was amusing is that it is the men who sweated it out on the pitch that were wrong - not the men who collected money on their behalf and refused to pay our athletes what they were rightfully owed.

In Kenya it is of vital importance that Government and its various sclerotic appendages are not embarassed, no matter how badly their officers act or how crooked their dealings are. It is the patriotic duty of every Kenya to ensure that Government always saves face - or at least it seems as if it is expected to be our patriotic duty. If the emperor has no clothes on then Godammit, it's you patriotic duty to pretend that he is wearing the finest three-piece suit from a Saville Row tailor.

It is why our rugby heroes will face the sharp end of the stick when they jet back into the country. How dare they show up the feckless penny-ante thievery of the men appointed to look after their welfare? How dare they show such disrespect to Brand Kenya and, by extension, Government by showing it up for failing or refusing to pay them their allowances? How dare they tell the whole rugby world that Government doesn't pay its dues? How dare they?!

If there is one thing that has allowed the war on corruption to seem like a lost cause, it is this instinct to protect public officers and the institutions they manage. It is why cover-ups are so easy in Kenya: don't embarass the boss has been elevated to a cardinal truth. It takes years and a brave whistleblower before the truth is ever known, by which time billions have been pilfered, frittered, and, all in all, remain unaccounted for. If the brave Sevens' team hadn't highlighted the fact that public funds, expended ostensibly on their behalf, had gone missing, would Kenyans have ever found out? I doubt it. Instead of Messrs Waita and Omwela losing their rags over the minor rebellion by the athletes, they must ask themselves what were the circumstances that prevented our hard-working and quite talented athletes from receiving their dues.  In short, who stole from Shujaa Pride?

Friday, June 08, 2018

The functional illiteracy of the nawabs

The most corrupt people are the ones who vote for us. When you go to the village they ask you, “Sasa utatuacha aje?”
The Woman Representative of Murang'a County in the National Assembly is an interesting person. When she accuses her electors of being the most corrupt merely because they ask for cash handouts from elected officials or candidates seeking political office, she betrays a staggering contempt for her constituents and a glaring self-delusion about her own culpability in the machinery of political corruption. She, and her fellow elected colleagues, have consistently been incapable of  articulating political messages that inspire and have always relied on campaign war-chests to buy votes from desperately poor voters.

The Woman Representative and her colleagues have reduced political activity to attending funerals and other social events that offer them an opportunity to "offer something small" at which they spend very little time speaking to how their constituents can play more constructive roles in the development of their constituencies but, instead, engaging in the worst forms of Kenyan politicking including sledging their rivals, defending the indefensible, and making false promises with an ease that sociopaths would appreciate.

She has engaged in most, if not all, the activities politicians in Kenya engage in when seeking votes or fighting to retain their seats and it is amazing that she would not only accuse her constituents of encouraging the graft that many of her colleagues routinely but that, somehow, this is sufficient grounds for insinuating that the people have endorsed political graft of all forms. It is a simple thought experiment: the next time she is asked for handouts while performing her political act, she should say no and let the chips fall where they may. If she is half the politician she thinks that she is, then she should persuade her constituents that despite her tight-fisted ways, she truly has their interests in mind and that they should re-elect her (and not elect her rivals).

The Murang'a politician is member of an assembly that has singularly failed to protect the welfare of the people by allowing the national executive to load up the public service with such a heavy debt burden that, regardless of the mellifluous songs about the "Big Four Agenda", it is almost certain that the personal circumstances of her constituents will not improve for a considerable period to come. When her personal circumstances have been affected, she has not hesitated to personally intervene with high government officials to seek redress. She doesn't seem to have translated that zeal for problem-solving to assist the constituents of Murang'a to ameliorate their straitened circumstances. Instead she chooses to insultingly accuse them of great corruption.

In any decent republic, the people make demands of their representatives. It is what representative government is all about. The Murang'a politician seems incapable of making the connection between her incredible capacity for not doing her job to the demands for cash handouts from her constituents. If she and her colleagues did their jobs properly, the number of beggars in Murang'a (as in the rest of the republic) would dwindle to only the most needy because the Government in which she serves would see to it that public policies encouraged wealth creation for all, thereby doing away with the need for the political classes to grace funerals with baskets of cash for the bereaved. She is an example of the functional illiterates we have sitting in the national legislature who continually refuse to acknowledge the depths of their ignorance and, thereby, fall to making wildly unreasoned accusations.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Discipline and disaster risk management

The "discipline" in disciplined forces has several implications. Members of police and military forces undergo training in a programmatic way so that when they are engaged in active combat, each member of the force reacts according to their  training, to perform their specific task without panicking, and therefore achieve a common objective. The sequence of events is programmed - drilled - into them such that from the moment the first shot is fired to the moment the operation is halted, each member of the force will follow the same sequence he or she was trained to follow, at the same speed that was drilled into them, without skipping a step, and thereby minimise errors and promote greater chances of victory or success.

This is the essence of disaster preparedness training, which it is increasingly becoming clear that many residential schools do not undertake. Disaster preparedness acknowledges the resources available, the environmental constraints, and the level of discipline of relevant stakeholders, and guides those in leadership to design a plan that will promote greater safety. An effective plan can save lives and minimise injuries. So too can a poor plan. But in the absence of any plan, more lives are at risk, more people are likely to be injured. An effective plan demonstrates that an organisation has the safety of its people as a priority.

Everything we now about residential schools these days points to one or two overriding priorities: high KCSE grades and a "good reputation". Very few residential schools seem to care that their students are safe. very few schools seem to have prioritised the safety of their students beyond the supply of fire extinguishers, the removal of window grills and the installation of outward-opening dormitory doors. Few, if any, residential schools drill their students on how to react to fires, stranger-invasions, medical emergencies, or any of a half dozen common disasters.

You don't need a law to prepare for disaster. Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jr's and Senator Johnson Sakaja's Bill is all well and good but it will be meaningless if the outcome is merely to create new bureaucracies that will do everything in their power to expand their procurement capabilities as opposed to establishing a pro-safety disaster-preparedness framework, especially for our institutions of learning where hundreds of thousands of children spend the vast majority of their time. If school principals and headmasters are waiting for a disaster risk management law, then the battle is already lost.

It is vital that school heads undertake to design plans and systems that account for the youthfulness of their charges and their propensity to panic as well as the capabilities of teaching and non-teaching staff. These plans and systems must foster trust between the school staff and the students so that early warning mechanisms can be employed without victimising or shaming the students. But at the heart of any plan or system is training and drilling: everyone must train to do their part as regularly as possible so that panicked reactions are minimised as much as possible.

For this to work, how schools are resourced and managed must change. The old model of relying on prefects and captains to provide the bulk of leadership of students must cease. Even in a school with a low number of teaching and non-teaching staff, primary leadership must be provided by the adults in charge. They have greater life experiences and are more mature when it comes to evaluating potential risks than the child-cum-student leaders. 
In the two recent disasters at Moi Girls Secondary School, Nairobi, it is apparent that neither the school's administration nor its teaching and non-teaching staff were prepared for any disaster and that their lack of leadership condemned 1,200 children to face disasters on their own. Part of the reason why the disasters occurred is because the teaching staff have a terrible relationship with the children, especially the principal, who have been described as high-handed, aloof and dictatorial, and unwilling to consider any of the suggestions made by their most vulnerable stakeholders. The captains and prefects, hell-bent on preserving the privileges they enjoy in the school, are an extension of the dysfunction in the leadership of the school and too immature to consider the implications of their sometimes harsh actions. If the school doesn't prepare a disaster risk management policy, a disaster preparedness plan and a disaster response plan, then it is just a matter of time before disaster strikes again.

Children are not part of the disciplined forces; however, our understanding of "discipline" has to evolve beyond using "discipline" as a catchall term for behaviour correction or modification of incorrigible children. We must start teaching children how to take action to protect themselves and others when they are faced with risks such as fire or stranger attacks. This must start by changing the violence-based teacher-student relationships that seem to prevail in our schools today.

Do you care about the girls?

How does a public sector manager keep her job after children die while under her charge? How does she even justify her continuing to hold office when children under her charge are attacked in the dead of night, assaulted and raped? Why are her subordinates so keen to protect the "good reputation" of the school, going to the [admittedly alleged] extent of directing children not to "talk about it" or offering the victim "scholarships" for her silence? Why would the policeman investigating the latest outrage go out of his way to speculate that the victims made things up so that "they didn't have to sit for exams"?

There are many things that are wrong with the way residential schools are managed these days, and all of them are epitomised by the callous, cold-hearted manner in which Moi Girls Secondary School, Nairobi is managed. Ten students died in September because the dormitory in which they were asleep wasn't designed with their safety in mind. Their principal had done nothing to improve the conditions in which these girls slept. Instead, her efforts have been channelled to the construction of a chapel!

The fire exposed the lies about the school's safety. The latest outrage only confirms that the principal hasn't learnt any lessons from tragedy. It is alleged that the school has a night complement of three guards: two men and a woman. They are buttressed by a matron, CCTV cameras and a perimeter fence. This is the reported sum total of all the features responsible for the safety of one thousand and two hundred girls. And on the night of the latest outrage, the matron sleep through it ll despite the screams of the victims. Did she sleep through the fire as well?

It is tempting to blame parents for not insisting that things had to change after the fire, but things are never that cut and dried, are they? In Kenya, where you go to secondary school is almost as important as what grade you get after your final exams. Quabbz has a solid reputation and many of its alumni have gone on to glittering careers. many parents are determined to secure bright futures for their daughters and if it means that their daughters will sleep six to a cubicle for them to have half a chance in life, then so be it. Parents will put up with mercurial principals if it means that their daughters will score As and Bs and they will endure irrational rules if these rules are a sign of the commitment of the principal to guide their children to academic success.

It is time to rethink things. Jael Muriithi has presided over two disasters. It is unconscionable that she still has a job. The board of management has supervised Ms Muriithi's disastrous leadership over the past year. It is unconscionable that its members are still in office. The least that Amina Mohammed can do is to relieve these people of their duties and send them packing. The most she could do is to make sure that they are never placed in charge of any institution of learning ever again and co-operate as fully as possible with the relevant authorities to see that they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for their acts of negligence. If she won't, then the parents must. It is the least they can do to ensure that if they send their daughters back to Quabbz in a week that their children will not be under the charge of the women and men who have let them down so terribly in the past.

It is alleged that one of the assailants is a teacher at the school. This is not the first teacher that has taken advantage of his position and authority over the girls to such sadistic ends when Ms Muriithi has been in charge. That alone disqualifies Ms Muriithi from being in charge of any school in future. How hands-off is her leadership style that she was unable to identify a sexual predator under her supervision? How mercurial is her leadership that vulnerable children are afraid to report to her that they are being preyed on by their teacher? Whatever else happens, she can't go back to Quabbz. If she does, if she is allowed to go back, then you will know that this world doesn't care a whit for its girls.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Forty years and a Governor, Mr Bindra

If leaders are your problem, where do they come from? Are they invaders imposed on you? Do they inherit their powers? Don’t you people go to the polls, and don’t you have the power to bring in people who know what they’re doing, who care about the public, who will play it right and not steal from the public purse? Don’t those people offer themselves for election, and what do you voters do when they appear? - Sunny Bindra, Water everywhere but none to drink! Where do Kenyans go wrong?
My introversion kept me from doing many things as a child, so much so that I was labelled "shy" by everyone. What it afforded me, though, was an opportunity to hone one of life's important skills: observation. Many introverts spend great amounts of time observing their world and those who occupy it, because it helps us navigate the noise and emotion that make up human affairs. I dedicated great time observing the most popular boys and girls and the ones among them that became rulers and those that became leaders. I applied these observations to politicians and there were minor differences here and there but, all in all, pretty much the same.

I also observed the children who followed the rulers and leaders. There were many factors that prevented them from becoming rulers or leaders, and left them, for the most part, content to be ruled or led. But the most important, I think, was the long term effect of losing battles, one after the other, especially to the rulers, while adults refused to intervene to forestall the creation of juvenile monsters, aka, bullies. There were two possible outcomes: apathy or resentment, neither of which tended to end well.

The same is the case with our political rulers. Almost all of them have bullied their way to the top, using monies they may have acquired, erm, creatively, to buy the loyalty of those whose loyalty is up for purchase, and using that loyalty as a blunt instrument in their ascent to the upper echelons of the political classes. In the early 'nineties, just as the gap between the national poverty and national ambition widened explosively, budding neo-Hitlers bought and paid for militias that became the principle weapons in winning political power. And the more innocent Kenyans became innocent victims of the violence, the more they withdrew from the political process, retreated to ethnic or familial cocoons, and allowed monsters to occupy all the ground that was available.

As Kenyans withdrew from political engagement, everything they took for granted fell apart: roads, schools, dispensaries, playgrounds, places of worship, cinemas, discotheques, football stadiums, social halls, markets, bus companies, universities, polytechnics, police stations, the railways, the national airline, the East African Industries, and so on and so forth. Nothing was spared. As more Kenyans withdrew and retreated, more bullies emerged until we find ourselves ruled by more bullies than leaders.

Nairobi City County is the harbinger of what awaits the rest of the country if all people of goodwill leave the ground open for the thieves, liars, murderers, pederasts and henchmen that have occupied the ground in Nairobi: dry taps, potholed roads, vanishing playgrounds, sewerage-soaked primary schools and a governor whose refrain is, "It was my predecessor's fault."

Mr Bindra, "these people" didn't emerge overnight, and we didn't willingly cede ground to them. For twenty-eight years, violence has been visited on the good and innocent among us. We have been abandoned by every official power. We have been fed a steady stream of lies: that family is everything; that the tribe is our protector; that when "our own" is up there, then we will be safe; that the other tribe is always out to get us; that the State will never help so long as it is not in "our" hands; that one can get away with anything so long as he has a big enough "army" standing with him. It used to be that when it came to the public purse, you knew who the crooks were. But after waiting for forty years for the crooks to be jailed and nothing happening...well, the effects are everywhere to see, aren't they.

The Board will eventually lose

The official Twitter handle of the Kenya Films and Classifications Board quotes its corporate communications manager as declaring that "Creativity has to be guided by the law". This is in relation to the protection of children from harm because of the media that they may be exposed to. This is after she retweeted what the Secretary to the KFCB had tweeted regarding the Hamilton statue standing outside the Supreme Court Building in Nairobi, "We must begin to ask hard questions and shape our future through media and art instead of opening up the space and becoming passive recipients of foreign dogma!"

"Foreign dogma" for those joining the show at this hour, is a tame euphemism for anything that the Board, its officers and employees have deemed as "aberrant" and, therefore, harmful to children.

When Uhuru Kenyatta, while attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in April, sat for a televised interview with a CNN anchor in which he made it as plain as he could without having to come out and say it explicitly that homosexuals could not expect special protections from his Government because, in his words, the "subject is of no major importance to the people and the Republic of Kenya." He would not come out and declare that homosexuals would be protected from harassment and abuse from organs of the State.

The officers of the Kenya Film Classification Board have never hidden their animus against homosexuals, never mind that they have sometimes stated that even qualified homosexuals are fit to work for the Board. On several occasions, they have declared these humans to have committed offences simply for being homosexuals and have accused them of spreading their agenda through the media including through film, music and children's animated TV shows. According to these public officers, being a homosexual is a crime and "glorifying homosexuality" is a crime. They have taken every opportunity to truck in some of the worst tropes about homosexuals, including paedophilia and sexual crimes. And because of their aversion to homosexuals, they have made it their mission to purge cinema, the airwaves and the internet of any message, no matter how benign, that they have deemed to be a glorification of homosexuality or the promotion of the homosexual agenda.

It doesn't occur to them that they have been passed by time. Many Kenyans, out of misinformation and misunderstanding, will react with disgust if someone reveals themselves to be a homosexual, but that is a shrinking number these days. More Kenyans are more exposed to new ideas about morality and ethics because of the internet and the ease with which they can travel abroad. They are more accepting of people who are different from them. And they have greater and greater appreciation for notions of individual rights such as privacy. Fewer and fewer Kenyans, outside the realms of gossip, are truly interested in the goings on in other Kenyans' bedrooms. Only the State, in the guise of the Kenya Film Classification, still has what sometimes feels like a prurient fascination with the affairs of not just homosexuals, but the entire LGBTQI+ community. This prurience is reflected in the sometimes violent language used by the chief executive officers and his director of communications.

The Board, therefore, though out of time and out of touch, will continue to argue for the criminalisation of free expression and the punishment of those who dare to say the un-sayable in film. And while the Board leads the charge to purify the nation's films, airwaves and internet, the world will come out to celebrate the filmmakers, thinkers, writers, musicians, poets, actors, dancers and artistes who dare to show us what we never even knew we had. The Board will eventually lose. I just hoe it won't be before it ruins many lives.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The end times

For the next six months or so, regardless of the political situation in the country, or the state of Government, and intended to ensure that Kenyans don't pay attention to the goings on in their own Government, or the number of new scandals that shall mushroom in the moist and dampened darkness of the bowels of the State, one phrase shall, in all its iterations, be repeated: "It's too early to campaign for 2022."

If there is one lesson we have been taught it is that "politics" and "politicking" are for an elite few. In recent weeks, as a taunt against elite members of that class in the Opposition, a Cabinet Secretary has asked those who don't have at least two hundred billion shillings to sit out the 2022 presidential race. Billion, not million. Clearly he did not get the memo.

The memo, though, is intended for the hoi polloi, the Great Unwashed. Our utility in the grand political scheme of things is reduced to two things: to act as a, usually, ethnic vote bank and for our youth, mostly, to act as cannon fodder in the when political chieftains have to measure their strength against their rivals in bloody street combat. We aren't needed in the great debates of the day nor is our input necessary for arriving at just decisions concerning inter- and intra-generational tax justice. We are to be seen, we are to vote, and we are to die for the elite if need be; but we are not to participate fully and vigorously in the making of crucial decisions about our present, past or future. In short, we have no say on who qualifies and who doesn't to be a presidential candidate in 2022, two-hundred-billion-shillings war chests notwithstanding.

And to make sure we know our place, the law of the land is being rewritten to ensure that should anyone of us step out of line, should anyone if us get the uppity sense that our opinions are important in any way, and should we then set down our opinions in writing, in newspapers, news magazines, social media accounts or online journals, we shall do so at the risk of being hauled off before pet magistrates and suffer millions of shillings in fines and years of incarceration for our temerity.
There are many things that they can and shall do to silence the Unwashed Masses from thinking or speaking. All of them, as history has consistently shown, will fail. Whether or not we have the right to discuss 2022 isn't up to the men making decisions about war chests. It is up to us, the rabble that we are. Soon enough this message will get through to us because if the Computer and Cybercrimes Act, 2018 is any indication, the elite already know this to be true.

Friday, May 11, 2018

A dance 22 years in the making

It used to be that no matter your station in life, rules and regulations guided most of your public acts, if not your private ones, because it was always assumed that at the very least, paying lip service to the tenets of the rule of law was a good thing. Scofflaws, even among the rich and powerful, did their best to hide their antisocial habits. It wasn't because they were ashamed but because it would simply make them a visible target for when things went awry in their affairs. As a result of this tacit compact among the people, it was easy for us all and our betters to keep up appearances - the fiction that we were in this together, that hard work always paid, that evildoers would be punished.

The lesson of the past twenty-five years, if not thirty, is that we no longer hew to this fiction. Brazen defiance of rules and regulations doesn't attract the opprobrium of right-thinking members of society because, and I can't believe I am saying this, if you can find a right-thinking member of society, you must have turned over every single rock in Kenya.

Nothing demonstrates how much we have erased the norms that made life tolerable than the predictable cases of Kenyans being killed by the dozen every time the floodgates of the heavens open and catastrophes follow, whether it is collapsing building, rivers that burst their banks or dams that collapse. The most recent, of course, is the ongoing tragedy in Nakuru County where Patel Dam on the Solai farm, failed and released millions of tonnes of water that have so far killed 40 Kenyans and displaced hundreds more.
The eponymous Mr Patel is said to have been a farmer in the area for at least two decades, and has built 8 other dams, one of which was the subject of Government "investigations", with an official from the Water Resources Management Authority saying that not one of Mr Patel's dams was licensed and that he had rebuffed all demands that he regularise his developments. Mr Patel is the latest in a long line of "private investors" who defied safety measures imposed on them by our laws and, more or less, did as they pleased, going back to the ill-fated Sunbeam Supermarket that collapsed and killed 35 Kenyans in 1996. Mr Patel has gotten away with his actions because in Kenya, led by the rich and powerful, it is no longer enough to defy the law: you are a hero to many when you do it brazenly and with great impunity.

It has been reduced to a fine dance, the events that are about to unfold over the Solai tragedy. Numerous Government officers will issue statements, some of remorse and some of condemnation. The media will attempt to parse what everyone is saying, without success, instead making the survivors and the families of the dead feel even worse. The Director of Public Prosecutions will direct he National Police to investigate. In a few days, certainly not more than two weeks, we will have forgotten and moved on to the next tragedy. We have perfected this dance for twenty-two years.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Tweeting Bandit is right

Stories from all over Kenya, in politics, academia, agriculture, religious, and corporate sector stories of exploitation, patronage, factionalism and outright suppression of talent paints the picture of elites who can't stand dealing with those smarter/more inventive than them. @TweetingBandit
We have witnessed many events in Kenya, some uplifting, but many dispiriting beyond compare. Despite what many of us undergo, we tend to soldier on in the hopes that hard work, luck, and access to connections, will bear out and we will lives lives of fantasy. Not many of us will succeed in our dreams, but many of us will make do. It isn't much to look forward to, but it is something and more often than not, it is something we have made for our ourselves.

It was reported in online versions of some of Kenya's dailies that Watu Wote, a Kenyan film nominated for an Oscar, was exhibited without the permission of its makers, Germany's Hamburg Media School, in Las Vegas by the Secretary and Chief Executive of the Kenya Film Classification Board. He, of course, denies everything and welcomes the aggrieved parties to sue him in order to prove their case. 

In late 2017, Sauti Sol released a video for their song, Melanin, and the KFCB head honcho thought that Kenyans did not deserve to be exposed to its contents. In recent weeks, after praising a talented Kenyan filmmaker (even though he hedged his praise with the mealy-mouthed "we still have some things to sort out"), he was very happy to announce that the Board had refused to grant Wanuri Kahiu a certificate of approval for her film, Rafiki, which was successfully exhibited at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival in France.

Having listened to him speak on several occasions, it is difficult not to see what Tweeting Bandit means when he says that our elite can't stand dealing with those who are smarter or more inventive than them. So far as we can tell, beginning with his tenure at the Nation Media Group, there is nothing lasting to his name, other than career advancement. His sojourn at the Kenya Union of Journalists wasn't marked with great achievements on behalf of the members of the Fourth Estate either, other than, of course, the one-note reminders about the role of journalists in promoting "national values". This is a trend that saw him swiftly move up the ranks in the Ministry of Information before he ended up in his current cushy sinecure.

At every step, it is hard to discern what he has built other than his sterling reputation for Christian fundamentalist thought-policing about sex and sexuality. Had he enforced the laws he was meant to enforce without inventing moralist reasons for his zealotry, we would have shrugged our shoulders and waited him out. But he often exceeds his jurisdiction, inventing constitutional fig-leafs for some of his extreme views, and daring the aggrieved (who often have done something that wouldn't receive much public support though remains lawful) to sue him and prove him wrong. In all this, one gets the impression that he is as described by Tweeting Bandit.

Kenya, in its infinite wisdom, denied Rafiki a certificate of approval. The French academy is reaping where we have sown. The Kenya Film Classification Board, its moralising religious zealot in charge, is the reason why. This is a lesson foreign filmmakers will take to heart and persuade them to carry one filming "Kenyan" locations in Johannesburg.